standing Richmond Town Hall NEW

RICHMOND — Proposed legislation that aims to improve affordable housing availability through legislative mandates would place undue pressure and crippling restrictions on smaller Rhode Island communities and “will not be effective without comprehensively addressing all the issues that caused the housing crisis.”

That’s the message the Richmond Town Council delivered in a letter Wednesday to Thomas Deller, chairman of the Rhode Island Land Use Commission, after unanimously voting the night before to send correspondence opposing land use changes. The letter urges the state, if it intends to move forward with housing as a top priority — House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, D-Warwick, campaigned on “addressing Rhode Island’s housing crisis” — to collaborate and work more closely with smaller communities to revise proposals.

The council voted unanimously, with Rich Nassaney absent, to send the letter. Councilman Michael Colasante said a working group that includes representation from councils in Chariho towns has been established and will continue to work to protect the community’s rights.

“The state of Rhode Island, from the ivory tower in Providence, is coming down and forcing a lot of zoning and property development changes in South County,” Council President Mark Trimmer said. “This is the type of thing that will leave towns, especially rural towns like ours, overburdened.”

The tentative proposed changes by the state would seek to gain compliance from communities in supporting affordable housing by requiring them to maintain affordable housing for at least 10% of residences. Richmond officials said that, by state and federal definitions, the town currently has a 3.71% rate.

The hard 10% requirement has been a source of consternation in many South County towns, including Hopkinton, Charlestown and Exeter, which have each sent their own letters of concern to the state.

In Richmond, as in the other three towns, councilors agreed that housing costs are at crisis levels and the issue must be addressed, but expressed concerns that generalized requirements and unfunded mandates could cost particularly smaller towns control over local zoning while also setting up communities to potentially face frivolous lawsuits.

Despite deep division on other issues in recent weeks, members of the Richmond Town Council were unapologetically united in their stance against the state measures.

Samantha Wilcox, the only Democrat on the five-member council, said she fully supported the letter and believed that local towns should unite to assure they aren’t left at the mercy of developers.

“I want to keep everything local and retain our right to make our own decisions,” Wilcox said. “It is not that I am opposed to affordable housing or any particular development. Even though we are all rural, (Richmond) looks different than Exeter, or Foster, or Bristol. What we want is to make sure our planning boards can make decisions for our town.”

With city communities including Providence and Warwick in support of the measure, Colasante said Tuesday that smaller towns in South County will need to unite and use “power in numbers” to fight back against forced mandates. He said the goal of the collaboration is to bring power and voices to small towns by standing together.

The informal working group, which consists of council members from Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown, has met once and will meet again next week, Colasante said. He said that over time, the group hopes to bring representatives of towns including Exeter, West Greenwich and even larger communities such as Westerly in as well.

Trimmer said that everyone he knows at the local level, no matter the side of the aisle they are on, seems in agreement. He said the community will need to come together to protect its rights.

“This is one of those issues that transcends politics,” he said. “We need to make sure this does not become an ‘us versus them’ issue. This is far too important and there is far too much at stake for either side to politicize it and risk losing momentum.”

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